A Florida woman was reportedly arrested and placed into custody last week, after her car implicated her in at least one alleged hit-and-run incident.
You read that right.
According to reports from Chicago's ABC7 and ABC25 in West Palm Beach, Fla., a car driven by 57-year-old Cathy Bernstein automatically called 911 to report a crash. The call was part of a safety feature designed to help first responders locate people who may have lost consciousness in crashes. That seems to have given dispatchers all the information they needed to pinpoint the location of the vehicle — and find the alleged hit-and-run driver — without ever having to talk to a person. In fact, talking to a person didn't help at all: in an audio clip of a 911 call obtained by the Florida station, Bernstein denied to a skeptical dispatcher that there even been any accident at all.
The report said the car that tattled on its owner was a Ford; Police in Port St. Lucie, Fla., did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Alan Hall, a spokesman for Ford, said that the company hadn't heard of 911 Assist being used like this before. But, he said, from reports he'd heard about the Florida incident, it seems that the emergency call feature "worked exactly like it was supposed to." The vehicle was in a collision, and called 911 through the driver's phone, which was paired with the car. When the driver did not respond to the operator, the car appears to have taken over and provided the operator with the information needed to locate the vehicle. That could have been a life-saver if the driver was unresponsive after passing out behind the wheel.
Hall said at least 10 million Ford vehicles with 911 Assist capability are on the road. However, drivers should note that the feature is opt-in — meaning that all drivers, including the one allegedly involved in this crash, have to turn the feature on and pair their car with their phones before it will work. This kind of emergency call technology is also on track to be in every car in the European Union, starting in April 2018.
Concerns over cyberattacks that could divulge your location information or even take over your car have gotten a lot of attention on the Hill, as lawmakers and regulators raise concern over the security implications of putting more smart technology into our vehicles.
But there are other things to consider as well. Whether you think it's a good thing or not, it's becoming increasingly difficult to hide your location even when you're in your own vehicle. This case does raise the point that people may not realize what they're signing up for when they use the smart features on their cars.
In this case, few people would criticize the software for behaving as it did, or spare much concern for someone apparently leaving a crime scene. You can lump it in with other techy "dumb criminal" stories, such as a case in October where a woman used Twitter's livestreaming Periscope app to film herself driving while drunk. Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the ACLU, also mentioned a case where a person posted a picture of his illegal marijuana growing operation, only to be reported to the police by a social media friend.
Those moves may be, well, just plain stupid. But you could also look at them as extreme versions of the kinds of oversharing mishaps that we've all faced.
Stanley said he doesn't have sympathy for someone who flees a crime scene, but that cases like this can illustrate how little people think about how their tech use can affect them. And that can give us all pause.
"Technology is moving so fast that people can forget what information is being collected and who it's going to," Stanley said.